Guest Contributors

The 21st Century-Ready Workforce

On March 15, 2012, IBM selected 33 cities worldwide to receive IBM Smarter Cities Challenge (#smartercities) grants during 2012.

Launched in 2011, this three-year, 100-city US$50 million program, IBM’s single-largest philanthropic initiative, funds in-person engagements staffed by teams of top IBM experts, who study and then make detailed recommendations addressing locally important urban issues.

With the announcement of the 2012 IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant winners — and as part of a series of Citizen IBM articles from the mayors of previous winners — Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter reflects on his city’s Smarter Cities Challenge experience as Philadelphia focuses on improving workforce development with its Digital On-Ramps initiative.

I believe Philadelphia is a great city with infinite potential. As Mayor, it’s my duty to find ways to capitalize on that potential. To do that, we have to be honest about the challenges ahead.

For Philadelphia, the major challenges center on education, literacy and workforce development. It is estimated that by 2030, approximately 600,000 Philadelphians will lack the basic skills required to compete in the global economy. Currently, two-thirds of the jobs in our city require high-literacy skills, but only one-third of our residents have the skills needed for these jobs. Unless we change this trend, many Philadelphians and their children will remain trapped in a cycle of underemployment and unemployment, working low-skill, low-wage jobs. This will have an impact on the kinds of jobs and companies that we attract to Philadelphia, limiting the potential growth for our local economy.

The lack of a skilled workforce is not unique to Philadelphia; sadly, it’s an American problem. There are nearly three million technical positions unfilled due to the skills gap. To address this problem, Philadelphia needs to transform its entire workforce development system. We need to rethink the training we provide to our job seekers. We need to implement a coordinated plan to streamline all of our workforce development organizations and programs. We need to encourage the business community to work with the City to find innovative ways to get Philadelphians working, the local economy growing, and new companies coming to the region. And, all of these changes must be cost-efficient.

After being selected as an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant winner in 2011, we welcomed a team of IBMers to the City of Philadelphia. They worked with City officials, employees and non-profit leaders to pinpoint the weaknesses in our workforce development system and create a roadmap to transform our human capital development system. In the end, our partnered effort with IBM resulted in the decision to strengthen the Digital On-Ramps initiative, a city-wide collaborative aimed at providing “anytime, anywhere” learning and workforce development.

The goal of the new Digital On-Ramps model is to be a digital learning portal: one-stop, easily accessible from anywhere and simple to navigate. This portal will connect Philadelphians to learning tools and other learners in a digital learning community. Here, we will foster collaboration and peer involvement, skills assessments, and we will provide up-to-date information on learning and training programs and resources. Over a four-year period, we aim to serve 175,000 youth and adults already enrolled in the Philadelphia learning community with the Digital On-Ramps initiative. Our goal is to create a more skilled, more prepared workforce with better employment options.

There is an old saying, “Never waste a crisis.” With the support and recommendations of the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge team, Philadelphia will turn the struggling residents into the skilled, 21st century-ready workforce of the future.

The Honorable Michael A. Nutter, the 98th mayor of Philadelphia, has set a course for America’s fifth largest city aimed at growing the regional economy in a sustainable manner, dramatically improving public safety and investing in education and workforce development.

Related Resources:

IBM Names Worldwide Recipients of 2012 Smarter Cities Challenge Grants

Mayor Stephen Mandel: Building a Smarter Edmonton

Smarter Cities Challenge Team: Building a Smarter Philadelphia

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